Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Read and win! Answer dog behavior question #2 for prize package of your choosing

Last week, Deb Runyan of Commerce Township won the first prize in a contest series for answering correctly that timing is "everything" in dog training.

I have question #2 ready for this week — WE HAVE A WINNER at 12:19 p.m. Tuesday. We also have a contestant to beat — today's winner is Deb Runyan, the winner who turned in the correct response first to last week's question too. Runyan selected prize package #5: pet clean up supplies from Purina.

The question was: Describe what it means to "shape" a dog's behavior. 

Runyan responded with the answer: "Shaping is rewarding any behavior/movement from the dog that is a positive step towards your desired end task/goal. Basically, "training" in small increments, working towards a new, and more complicated feat."

The answer is absolutely correct. 

Jean Donaldson, author of Culture Clash, phrased it this way: "Shaping is technique which involves rewarding the dog's best efforts and then gradually raising the standard until the behavior is as you wish."

Remember answers to the first few questions can be found among these three posts:
Behavior 101: Shaping vs. Training, Part I
Behavior 101: Shaping vs. Training, Part II 
If the dog likes you, I like you

The rules of the contest are this — The first person to email me (karen@oakpress.com) the correct answer can select a prize package of his or her choosing. Check out the full list of available prize packages.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

When pit bulls attack: Sterling Heights dangerous dog ordinance in action

Andrew Serocki stopped the attack
The recent attack by two pit bulls on a woman walking down the street in Sterling Heights will show just what can be accomplished by a dangerous dog ordinance.
Sterling Heights' city council enacted a non-breed specific dangerous dog ordinance last year. A city official told The Macomb Daily that this will be the first time the city has had to enforce its dangerous dog law to its fullest extent.
The owners may face still fines and even jail time.
It'll be interesting to see what happens in this case.
Neighbors say that the attack was not the first time the dogs have gotten loose.
Whatever the penalties may be — and I do hope they're harsh — it is my most sincere wish that the couple are banned from owning dogs of any breeds in the future.
Clearly, the ante is upped when you own a pit bull. But the truth is, any dog can be dangerous in the hands of an irresponsible owner and this couple has clearly demonstrated their irresponsibility.
There are no valid excuses for allowing this to happen.

Interview with man who beat the pit bulls away with his cane

City official talks about Sterling Heights' response to the attack

Monday, March 12, 2012

Read and win! First question in contest series

This question is closed — congratulations to winner Deb Runyan of Commerce Township! Check below for the answer to the question. 

You've read last week's posts on behavior, and perhaps even picked up a copy of Culture Clash or Inside of a Dog.
Now, test your knowledge on dog behavior in exchange for winning a cool prize of your picking — check out the entire list of prizes.
The first one to email me (karen@oakpress.com) with the answer to the question below will get to pick a prize from the list.
Don't forget to include your contact information and the prize package you'd like.

Dog Behavior question #1 
What is considered "everything" in dog training? Or, to phrase it differently, what is the single most important thing that will determine your success in shaping any behavior in your dog?

Deb Runyan responded first with the correct answer, which is "Timing."
Timing, folks, is absolutely everything in dog training.
Runyan selected the book "For the Love of Dogs" as her prize.
Check back next week for another chance to win!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Read and win! Prize packages for answering dog behavior questions

I hope everyone's ready for the chance to win some cool dog stuff, because I've finally gotten my act together and arranged prize packages for the kick off of this week's contest.
In short, I'll be giving away different packages for the first person who emails me (karen@oakpress.com) with the answer to a variety of dog behavior questions that I'll post over the next few weeks. Read more about the contest (and how to give yourself an edge on winning) in my post, Read and win — answer questions to get cool dog gear.
And don't forget that last week's posts were a primer for the first few questions I'll ask as well.
Those posts are:
Behavior 101: Shaping vs. Training, Part I
Behavior 101: Shaping vs. Training, Part II 
If the dog likes you, I like you

After tallying up the give-away gear that's been amassing under my desk, I decided to make one change to the contest — rather than have a specific prize package for a specific question, I'm posting information about all the available prizes in this post. Each winner will get to choose which package he or she wants.

Without further ado, here are the prizes:

This prize is no longer available!
Prize package #1
Prize package #1 — Food & water bags for travel by Planet Dog
Made for traveling with your pooch, these two bags are handy for trips to just about anywhere. Use the larger pink bag for storing your dog's kibble and use the smaller green one to feed him. The green bag is 100 percent waterproof and can be used for both food and drink. Both bags are fully collapsible, which means they're great for stuffing in a backpack and taking it with you on a hike. I've had a similar collapsible, waterproof bag for my dog for years and wouldn't be able to get through the summer without it. Spending hours on the trails on an 80-degree day isn't something you can do without having a water source for your dog. What I love about these collapsible bags is that I can fit them into my hiking backpack, toss in a couple water bottles and we're all set for a day hike. Both bags can be machine washed and left to air dry. Not to mention, I love Planet Dog because of its foundation that provides cash grants to programs that support dogs helping people in need. Find out more at http://www.planetdogfoundation.org/.

Prize package #2
Prize package #2 — Small food & water bag by Planet Dog with stickers
Similar to the bags in prize package #1, this is a smaller version of the collapsible food and water bag. It is also 100 percent waterproof and can be machine washed. Toss it in your hiking backpack with a bottle of water and you're all set for a day hike with the doggie. I'm including some neat little car stickers with this bag as well, one that says "Bring Fido" (to let everyone know that you're a great dog owner and they should be too!) and another that shows your support for Planet Dog, a cool company that produces some great dog gear. Additionally, I love that a percentage of every purchase goes toward providing cash grants to programs that support working dogs. Find out more at planetdogfoundation.org.

Prize package #3
Prize package #3: T-shirt and toys
This package of dog-oriented gear has something for both you and your pooch. For you, there's a light blue t-shirt by crazydogtshirts.com (size medium) featuring a pug face that says "Neighborhood Watch." I've also tossed in a set of playing cards for the canine aficionado. Made by Laurence King Gifts, the Dogs: Best in Show trump cards feature dog breed illustrations and instructions for a lighthearted card game. For fido, there's a glow in the dark bouncy ball by Planet Dog. The ball is buoyant (for those water dogs), non-toxic minty. My favorite part — it's also made in the U.S.A.

Prize package #4
This prize is no longer available!
Prize package #4: T-shirt and bath products
Get the same "Neighborhood Watch" t-shirt as in prize package #4, except in a dark blue color. The shirt features the image of a pug, size medium, and is made by crazydogtshirts.com. This package also includes an assortment of canine bathing products by Furminator, the maker of the ultimate dog de-shedding brush. Products include a waterless de-shedding shampoo as well as a regular de-shedding shampoo and an additional de-shedding solution for use during bath time. As an extra, I've including a sticker that can be placed on a window on your home to alert firefighters or emergency professionals that there is a pet inside — so important to have in case an emergency ever happens.

Prize package #5
This prize is no longer available!
Prize package #5: Canine clean-up products
Made by Purina, this handy kit is perfect for the new dog owner. Kit includes training pads (more commonly known as "pee pads") as well as a pet stain and odor eliminator solution. My favorite in this kit is the super-sized lint roller — unless you own one of the rare non-shedding breeds, these things are a must in a dog owner's household and, in my opinion, is one of the few items we Americans should be proud to have super-sized.

Prize package #6
Prize package #6: Calendar and coffee table books
Get a darling calendar (yes, it's for 2012. I'm late. But you can still enjoy this calendar for the bulk of the year!) based off the book Unlikely Friendships, which is all about — yep, you guessed it — documented cases of unlikely friendships in the animal kingdom. Also included in this package is a set of two adorable hardcover coffee table books: Puppies in 3D and Kittens in 3D, both by author Yoneo Morita. Every guest will enjoy picking up these books to browse through beautiful photos depicting our most-popular pets in their cutest form — as babies.

Prize package #7
Prize package #7: Crochet projects for dog lovers
These two books are called "Ami Ami Dogs: Seriously Cute Crochet" (get volume 1 and volume 2) and I must admit, there are some seriously cute patterns included in this book. The paperback books by Mitsuki Hoshi introduces readers to various techniques of Amigurumi, the Japanese art of crocheting stuffed animals. Both books have patterns for 12 breeds ranging from labradors to Bernese Mountain Dogs, Dalmations, poodles and more.

You may also choose from the following selection of books:  

Book 1 — Racing in the Rain: My Life as a Dog
By Garth Stein, this is a special adaption of the New York Times best selling adult novel The Art of Racing in the Rain. (paperback)
Description included on book: "Meet one funny dog — Enzo, the lovable mutt who tells this story. Enzo knows he is different from other dogs: most dogs love to chase cars, but Enzo longs to race them . He learns about racing and the world around him by watching TV and listening to the words of his best friend, Denny, an up-and-coming race car driver, and his daughter Zoe, his constant companion. Enzo finds that life is just like being on the racetrack — it isn't simply about going fast. And, applying the rules of racing to his world, Enzo takes on his family's challenges and emerges a hero."

This prize is no longer available!
Book 2 — For the Love of Dogs: An A-to-Z Primer for Dog Lovers of All Ages
Written by Allison Weiss Entrekin. Illustrated by Mark Anderson. (hardcover)
Description included on book: "For the Love of Dogs explores our canine obsession in a fresh and humorous way, using all 26 letters of the alphabet accompanied by rhymes, colorful illustrations and informative text. The result is a tribute to pooches that can be enjoyed by readers of all ages. From barking beagles to dashing dachshunds, many of our favorite breeds are featured on this book's colorful pages. And because I is for 'Instincts' and O is for 'Obedience,' readers will learn about some of the traits that make dogs such fascinating friends."

This prize is no longer available!
Book 3 — Katie Up and Down the Hall: The True Story of How One Dog Turned Five Neighbors into a Family
By Glenn Plaskin. (hardcover)
Description on press release: "In KATIE, Plaskin tells the moving story of what happened over a period of sixteen years up and down his long hallway, his astutely-intelligent dog Katie, leading him to discovering an entirely new "family" in his New York City apartment building. At a time when people often feel estranged from their neighbors, this book is an affirmation a family is anything you want it to be, and that you might find a new one when you least expect it."

This prize is no longer available!
Book 4 — Huck: The Remarkable True Story of How One Lost Puppy Taught a Family — and a Whole Town — About Hope and Happy Endings
By Janet Elder. (hardcover)
Description on press release: It is "the kind of simple yet compelling, spirit-lifting tale that cannot be dismissed as merely another 'dog book.' It is more than just a story of one family going against the odds to find their lost puppy; at its heart, Huck is a story about the boundless love parents have for their children and the instinct of people to open their hearts to strangers in need. It is a story that you will have a hard time putting down or forgetting."

Book 5 — Roam
By Alan Lazar (hardcover)
Description on press release: "A beagle/poodle mutt named Nelson finds a happy home with a newlywed couple, Katey and Don. But when in trouble sets in, Nelson senses something wrong, and soon follows his nose outside of their yard and into the world. Over the course of eight years, Roam follows Nelson as he crosses the country searching for a way home, meeting people and animals along the way who teach him life's most valuable lesson. Roam is so much more than the story of a dog. It is an eye-opening look at the human condition."   

Book 6 — Hooper Finds a Family: A Hurricane Katrina Dog's Survival Tale
By Jane Paley (hardcover)
Description on press release: "He's endearing. He's funny. He's a survivor. In this moving tale of adventure and triumph based on a true story, a lovable yellow lab named Hooper tells his own dramatic rescue tale of being left homeless in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and taking a daring trip from New Orleans to New York City to meet his new family. He tells of the terrifying force of Katrina, his trials in the shelter, and being the new dog on the block in a city far from home. Hooper Finds a Family is  tale of survival that is sure to resonate with young readers and dog-lovers of all ages from New Orleans to New York City and beyond."

Book 7 — Ivan! A Pound Dog's View on Life, Love, and Leashes
By Tim McHugh (paperback, advance reading copy)
Description on press release: "What makes this book important is that it provides a voice for adopted dogs ... This book is similar to The Art of Racing in the Rain and A Dog's Purpose, in that it is told from the perspective of the dog. Ivan tells his story and that of his adopted family on his quest to answer the central question of life: why is he here? With optimism and insight he gives us all a great sense of appreciation for all that we have in life."

Friday, March 9, 2012

If the dog likes you, I like you

Dog owners are famous for letting their dogs have an opinion about people they meet.
"He just didn't like George," one woman might say to her friend about last night's date. "He wouldn't go near him, and you know, to be perfectly honest with you, I just had this feeling that something wasn't right about the guy." Do dogs have a sixth sense about people? My answer is no.
Does this make your dog less trustworthy as a judge of character? My answer, this time, is only slightly different — mostly no.
Alexandra Horowitz in Inside of a Dog brings up the story of Clever Hans the famous counting horse. There was a horse, a long time ago, who was said to be able to do math. He would tap out the answers to math questions and always got the right answer.
Clever Hans, the famous counting horse
Eventually, it was realized that the horse did not know the answers to the math questions, but he was simply reading the response of the human asking the question to figure out when to stop tapping. Not even the horse's owner realized this was taking place, because he was blissfully unaware of the tiny body language signals he gave when the horse reached the right answer.
What we have to take from this as it relates to your dog's ability to judge the character of others, then, is that there's always the possibility the dog is not making a judgment of the other person as much as he is picking up on cues you're giving about how you feel about that person.
Perhaps in the example I started with, the dog owner was the one who had a bad feeling about the guy and the dog, an excellent reader of human behavior, particularly its owner's behavior, picked up on it.
This is called the confirmation bias. Horowitz writes: "Dogs become amplifiers of our own beliefs; we can attribute to them that which we think ourselves."
After all, how often do you hear people say, "My date last night was amazing, I've never met such a wonderful man before. But the dog didn't like him, so I'm not going to see him again."
You just don't hear that.
Now, let's return to the idea that dogs are excellent readers of human behavior. They are.
Dogs study us and they learn a lot about us, particularly our body language.
Horowitz writes: "We all have characteristic behaviors we display when angry, nervous or excited. 'Untrustworthy' people often glance furtively in conversation. Dogs notice this gaze."
So, could your dog be able to pick up on who is good, and who is not?
Probably. But the point is, if your dog noticed, you probably noticed it too. Humans just don't always consciously process why we get these feelings that we have about other people.
You instinctively know that darting eyes and shiftiness is body language that expresses some nervousness that essentially indicates the person has something to be nervous about, and therefore is perhaps lying or untrustworthy in some manner.
You just don't process it. You don't automatically think, "his body language is giving me a bad feeling." Instead, you just chalk it up to this feeling you had — call it a gut feeling or an instinct, whatever.
Your dog is seeing the same things you see, but processing them more directly. And he's also paying attention to you to see if your body language is confirming what he sees.
Can we rely on our dogs to be good judges of character, then?
Perhaps, but not because of some sixth sense. And their opinion can be very much influenced by yours, so a better option may be simply relying on your so-called 'instincts' in the first place.
Go with your gut.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Behavior 101: Shaping vs. training, Part II

When we start looking at training as shaping our dog's behavior, it then makes sense to conclude that this shaping can happen at any time, regardless of whether we're actively trying to train a command.
As an example, when my dog was a puppy, I thought that there was nothing cuter in the world than when he laid down with his legs stretched out behind him in what many call the "frog-dog."
Sensi "frog dog" at 3 months old
Whenever he did this, myself and just about any human around noticed it. The action of frog-dog earned my dog attention, and positive attention at that. It drew humans to him, earned him pats and affection and sometimes, even treats.
Now 9-years-old (but with great hips; dogs with bad hips can't do frog-dog), he employs frog-dog whenever he really wants attention. Whether I've just walked in the door from work or he wants outside and we're not paying attention to him, he'll give frog-dog a try to see if it gets our attention. Because usually, it does, right?
We have unintentionally shaped that behavior.
Of course, timing is everything. Let's say that as puppy, instead of giving praise to frog dog right when he went into the position, I didn't notice until he started stretching his front paws forward in an army crawl type move.
The timing didn't teach him that just frog dog was a rewardable behavior, but that frog dog followed by army crawl is the rewardable behavior.
So he does it a second time and we reward him a second time, but what we think we're rewarding (frog-dog) is not what he thinks we're rewarding (frog-dog followed by army-crawl).
And if that was the case, I'd have a 9-year-old frog-dog-army-crawling pit bull rather than a just a frog-dogger.
So, keep these two things in mind — 1) Behavior can be shaped by your response to any behavior at any given time, and 2) Your success in shaping any behavior comes down to the timing of your response in relation to the behavior taking place.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Behavior 101: Shaping vs. training, Part I

When we say we've trained our dogs to do something, what we've really done is shape a behavior.
But most often, our idea of training is basic — I ask the dog to do something, the dog does it, I give the dog a reward — and misses some crucial steps along the way.
Sit is a great example of how we get started down this path of "missing something" in our efforts to "train" our dogs.
We almost instinctively take the treat in our hand and put it over our dog's head when asking him to sit. In an effort to keep his eyes on that treat, the dog will sit down so he can lift his head more vertically to do so. And voila! You've got a sitting a dog.
So you're led to believe there's little more to it than that. You don't really think about how the placement of your hand may have prompted the behavior and the fact that your dog is not immediately associating the verbal command with the action of sitting.
You just kinda assume that dog training really can be that easy.
But, how would you, say, train a dog to do something more complex, like roll over?
If your answer is to keep asking your dog to roll over until he just does it, good luck.
More likely, you'll start by asking your dog to do something he already knows how to do, like lie down. Good first step.
Now, do you reward him for that? Do you wave the treat around hoping he'll flop his body over? Do you get down on the floor and start flopping around yourself in hopes he'll learn by observation?
You can roll over all you want, but chances are, your dog will just look at you like you're slightly odd today.
Any training begins with shaping, whether you realize it or not. The more complex a task you're trying to teach a dog, the more shaping you're going to have to do.
When trying to teach a roll over, you do want to begin with "lie down" considering your dog knows that command. Go ahead and reward him.
Now, you start rewarding for any little movements that are in the direction of a roll-over. Maybe he shifts his weight so he's lying more on one side than another — good, reward it. It's a step in the right direction.
And that's what shaping is all about, rewarding steps in the right direction and then rewarding steps that are better than the rest.
Here's how Jean Donaldson, author of Culture Clash, put it: "Shaping is technique which involves rewarding the dog's best efforts and then gradually raising the standard until the behavior is as you wish."
The most common mistake made during shaping, she says, is that the standard for a reward is set too high and behaviors that are on the right track are ignored.
With our roll-over example, then, perhaps you missed that first step in the right direction — rewarding the dog when he shifted his body to one side while laying down.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Read and win — answer questions to get cool dog gear

Buy it
Buy it
I've been a bad blogger.
You see, I've had a lot of cool dog gear sent my way, from funny t-shirts to travel gear and tons of other stuff that has been amassing under my desk since last summer.
This stuff is supposed to be reviewed and written about or given away to readers.
I haven't done that — I was, obviously, on hiatus for several months last year — and there's so much stuff under my desk that I can hardly find space for my feet anymore.
And I must've earned a reputation as a no-good blogger since companies have stopped sending me stuff too.
To my defense, product reviews are not the goal of this blog. Sure, it's fun to get free stuff and even more fun to give it away, but I'm on a crusade here! This blog is supposed to enjoyable, sometimes heart-warming and funny, but always with the goal in mind that I can offer readers something about dog behavior that can improve their life and their dog's life too.
So here's my plan:
Starting in two weeks (the week of Monday, March 12) , I'll begin posting behavior questions and offering a prize to the first reader who responds with a correct or close-enough answer. The prizes will be among those items accumulating under my desk and I'll make clear what each prize is for each question.
Now, you can certainly guess or go off your current dog smarts.
Or, you can start boning up on your behavior knowledge.
In the past couple of weeks, I've reviewed two really awesome books that I encourage all dog lovers to read — Inside of a Dog by Alexandra Horowitz and Culture Clash by Jean Donaldson.
For any question I ask, the answers can be found in the pages of these books.
And to be fair, I'll make the questions easy enough to make educated guesses even if you have not or are not reading the books.
But if you really want to prepare yourself, picking up a copy of those books is definitely one way to you an edge on the competition.
Additionally, the all of next week's blog posts will have some bearing on helping you answer the first few questions I ask.
Answers will have to be emailed to me (my email: karen at oakpress dot com); I'd allow comments but in order to send stuff to you, I need your email address and contact information anyhow.
All right, the ball is in your court now. Get ready to show off your behavioral prowess for a chance to win some awesome dog gear.